Color by the Canal
For his family's studio-residence in Venice, California, architect Glen Irani infuses cool modernist forms with feverish hues
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 2/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
A decade ago Glen Irani took a chance walk through Venice, California, and fell in love with its dense, charming landscape of waterways and houses. "I thought it was like a puppy—beautiful but unruly," says the Los Angeles–born architect, who decided to build his first home in the sea-level community. Two canal-side residences later, he wouldn't live anywhere else: "The record speaks for itself."
Adding to Irani's Venice trilogy is a three-story hybrid where the architect and his wife, artist Edith Beaucage, live and work. Architecturally, it's an amalgam, too. The 3,000-square-foot, two-bedroom steel, glass, and concrete modernist box, which sits snugly on a 30-by-95-foot lot, reflects Irani's training at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Richard Meier & Partners Architects. But its startling orange-and-blue facade, to say nothing of its vivid polychrome interiors, is light years away from his mentors' cool International Style. "For me, architecture starts with function," explains Irani, principal of his namesake firm. "Then I infuse it with romantic ideas of life and space."
Planning began with the work spaces. Irani gave himself a corner studio on the ground floor. Rolling metal desks project from a steel counter that stretches the length of one wall; above, plywood cabinets fronted with colored acrylic panels house a reference library. The glass wall on the other side of the room, which adjoins a 40-foot-long lap pool, slides back in true Southern California fashion to create an open-air pavilion.
Beaucage's studio is at the opposite end of the house, in the top corner where there's 'plenty of light. Between the two work zones, the second-floor living-dining-kitchen area embraces a large terrace, which the couple's 31/2-year-old son, Marlo, has staked out as a playground. Furniture groupings and custom-built cabinetry demarcate areas within the open-plan living space. A curvaceous storage wall of bleached bird's-eye maple stained with metallic dyes anchors the kitchen. Irani used the same material, along with painted wood and resin, for the blocky island that houses the oven and cooktop.
Another rounded wall of touch-latch cabinetry surrounds the fireplace. This time the material is steel, acid-washed and waxed to a warm blue tone. In front of the hearth, a Martin Visser sofa and a trio of Irani's own two-seater Pad chairs converge around a reproduction of Isamu Noguchi's iconic coffee table.
For dining, Charles and Ray Eames wire-mesh bikini-pad chairs and a maple table of Irani's design abut a window wall with views of the canal. A pattern of large amoeba-like shapes—inspired by the biomorphic forms in Beaucage's encaustic and gouache works—is sandblasted onto the glass, providing a modicum of privacy.
Irani credits his wife's métier with the house's most striking quality: the color palette. "More than 40 colors were balanced on an artist's color wheel and developed into an experimental theory," he explains. "We focused on what occurs when many colors are united in one space." The colors seem to dance on the walls as orange, scarlet, bronze, celadon, and robin's-egg blue in the living space give way to chartreuse in the stairwell. The vibrant shade is a magnet drawing you up, as are a skylight and the apertures 'punched in the wall, which allow light to play on the cantilevered stair treads strung on stainless-steel rods.
The couple's bedroom, which occupies two thirds of the top floor, has a saturated-red ceiling. "It's like sleeping beneath a Bedouin tent," says Irani. Silver satin curtains add a layer of shimmer when pulled from pocket niches flanking the windows.
Screened behind sandblasted glass partitions and lit by pendant globe fixtures, the bathroom juts into the master suite like a freestanding lantern. The integrated unit incorporates an acrylic tub, a pair of porcelain sinks, painted MDO cabinetry, a clear acrylic countertop, and a mirrored back wall. There's something nautical about its compact, efficient design. "It's very aqueous in the dawn light," notes Irani, as if it were emerging from an early-morning Venetian fog.